Noise and Health Effects

Noise pollution - effects on health and wellbeing

Noise and Health

The World Health Organisation provide a very useful definition of health:

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

We know that noise has an effect on one’s well-being. Furthermore, we know that our quality of life or well-being can have an affect our physical and mental health; there is, for example, evidence that annoyance and sleep disturbance can give rise to adverse health effects. Sleep is a biological necessity so it is not surprising that there is a causal relationship between poor health and sleep disturbance. After our sleep is disturbed we become tired and irritable; limiting our performance in school or at work and, potentially, impacting on our personal relationships. Long-term sleep disturbance is also associated with a higher risk of experiencing poor cardiovascular health.

A larger foundation of research on the direct impact that noise has on physical health is being built. Although, much of the current research relating to health effects (such as noise impact on cardiovascular health) relates to transport noise. Noise has an indirect causal relationship on health though, and there can be a degree of subjectivity involved in measuring something which may not cause disease directly (where there is a causal chain).

High Risk Groups

There are some groups of people that are at higher risk to exposure to noise than others, these include:

  • Children
  • The elderly
  • Shift workers
  • Pregnant women
  • Those already in poor health

Anyone who has cared for children will be aware that children have a higher awakening threshold than adults which may, at first, make one assume that they are less sensitive to noise. However, the heightened effects of sleep disturbance on children make them much more vulnerable to noise than the average adult.

The sleep patterns of the elderly, pregnant women and those in poor health are already likely to be fragmented. Whereas the circadian rhythm of a shift worker has already been adapted. In these groups, therefore, any additional impact on sleep disturbance can have a deleterious effect.

The Law

Whilst the law enables enforcers to protect the personal comfort and health of those affected it may not always take account of the particular circumstances or sensitivity of the individual. Statutory nuisance, for instance, must be measured against the sensitivities of “the man on the Clapham omnibus” (an average reasonable man). However, in relation to some of the mechanisms within the anti-social behaviour legislation, some allowances may be made when considering measures to prevent excessive noise disturbance to those who may be affected more than others.

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